These are days of greatness and glory. We do not know it yet, but people seldom do. I think of memoirs, of how the lost generation could only tell their intertwined kinship in hindsight. You read about them, and you wonder: did they know? And of course, they didn’t! They were there to have coffee, to drink and to walk about Paris, but mostly, they were there to write. Most of them kept writing, and now we think of their names, gilded in all the good there is, but they were just people living. That is the most important thing to know about it all. We writers are terribly honest creatures. We do not have the luxury of delusion. We only say the words are good when we’re halfway through them, and it occurs to us that they are.
We need this honesty. Someone who has never read a book will find whatever they read to be good; we must not trust them. And what of those who have read a bit too much? We must not trust them either. Their bearings on the goodness of writing were lost a long time ago. Like one continues brushing teeth, they continue reading—out of habit. And so, we cannot call ourselves good or great before we are, and even then, even if we did reach there, the words will come as they always do. The words will always come hard; they don’t much care for who you are or what you’ve done. To the words, you are simply someone who sits to face the blank page and begins to tell the truth.
I met someone for coffee the other day. She asked me if the words were any good since I had been writing for long enough. I told her they were the same as they have always been. Words were like coffee—there was always some tuning to do. There was always something to fix. There was always more to say, and there was always more to remember. We don’t much know what the greats did differently to get there, but we know they wrote. They wrote until there was no life left in them. There is nothing different about this, and there shouldn’t be.
They read those who came before them, and we read them, and all of us have written. There is kinship in this, too.